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Shakespeare based his Macbeth on the real King Macbeth of Scotland recorded in Holinshed’s Chronicles. Holinshed’s King Macbeth was naturally a different character from Shakespeare’s, although there were many similarities. Both were prepared to kill to become king, and their victim was in both cases Duncan. The original Macbeth became king after killing his cousin Duncan I at Bothgowanan (1034-1040) He believed he had a legitimate claim to the throne according to Scottish tradition, whereas Shakespeare’s Macbeth was persuaded by three scary witches that he should be king and was therefore on much more shaky ground.
King Macbeth of Scotland reigned from 1040-1057 and was the last Celtic monarch.There was only one native uprising against him and that was led, understandably enough, by Duncan’s father. After this had been dealt with the realm was peaceful enough for Macbeth to go on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050. Contrast this with Shakespeare’s Macbeth and his demise after much murder and mayhem. This is not to say that everything went smoothly for King Macbeth. In 1054 he had to fight against an invading force from Northumberland led by Duncan’s son, Malcolm. He defeated Malcolm on this occasion but in 1057 he was not so lucky and died on the battlefield. Malcolm’s victory was not immediate as Macbeth’s supporters made his son Lulach king and continued their resistance. However within a few months Lulach was decisively defeated and Malcolm became King Malcolm III. This was the beginning of the Canmore dynasty in Scotland and also the beginning of Macbeth’s bad name. The Canmore dynasty exalted Duncan at the expense of Macbeth and his Celtic connection. Macbeth increasingly became portrayed as the villain of the piece, a tradition that was to find its fullest expression in Shakespeare’s play.
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